Campus News

Results of first campus climate survey show divide in perceptions of inclusivity

Image By: Katie Scheidt

UW-Madison released results from its first-ever campus climate survey, and data showed school officials what they had “long known anecdotally” — underrepresented students have a significantly less positive perception of the university’s environment.

Survey data — drawn from the 8,652 “representative” responses — show that while 81 percent of UW-Madison’s overall student population often feel welcome on campus, just 69 percent of LGBQ students, 67 percent of students with a disability, 65 percent of black students and 50 percent of trans or nonbinary students felt similarly.

In fact, 19 percent of students of color and 21 percent of LGBQ students reported experiencing incidents of hostile, harassing or intimidating behavior directed at them personally. Nearly one in three trans and nonbinary students and students with disabilities reported experiencing similar behaviors, according to the report.

While news of the survey first became public amid intense campus pressure from movements like #TheRealUW in 2015, university officials countered that the initiative had been in the works long before these movements.

The survey was scheduled after a committee report in spring 2014, according to Blank. The committee’s recommendations helped draft the Diversity Framework, which Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims said will guide the university’s efforts for a decade.

Sims said that while the data only reaffirmed what students had reported in the past, the survey results will help UW-Madison improve programs already in place by helping to determine where to allocate funding.

“[The data] helps you think about future allocation of resources, quite frankly,” Sims said. “How we direct resources, how we set ourselves up for success, to gauge where we want to go.”

Blank referenced the 2015 AAUP survey that provided data on campus sexual assault to highlight the impact of this survey. When the sexual assault data came out, Blank said many people realized the problem was bigger than they had thought. This led to student-based efforts to put an end to it.

The Campus Climate Survey Task Force, led by Sims and Dean of Students Lori Berquam, created future goals after sifting through survey data like ensuring an inclusive environment, increasing campus safety and promoting shared values of diversity and inclusion in the report.

Blank said the results are not a call to start “a whole bunch of new programs,” but a call to the campus to realize there are people here who do not feel welcome.

“Rather than starting 10 new things, we need to make sure that we are doing well the 10 things we have underway,” Blank said. “The data themselves will generate some conversation and personal reflection with some of the activities that are already underway.”

Junior Maryam Muhammad, a student of color at UW-Madison who works on the Our Wisconsin initiative, said that while she supports the decision to focus on programs that are already in place, the university should make programs like Our Wisconsin mandatory so students know this is a serious issue.

“You see information about initiatives like AlcoholEdu posted around campus, but you don’t see the same recognition for diversity and inclusion,” Muhammad said. “[These programs should be mandatory because] when made serious by the university, the students will feel more open to understanding these issues.”

In addition to inclusivity issues, many underrepresented students feel “not at all” comfortable with contacting UW-Madison police if they have a problem.

Less than half of the trans and nonbinary respondents said they would not be comfortable contacting UWPD, and less than one in three students of color reported they would not be comfortable reporting to officers.

Muhammad said she was “unlikely” to contact UWPD again after a poor experience freshman year. Muhammad said that when she and her friends had racial slurs thrown at them in her residence hall, UWPD seemed as though they were trying to protect the offender, not the victims.

“There was a lot of harm that happened, and I don’t think they were very considerate to the victims,” Muhammad said. “They could have taken more time to listen more to the victims and understand how we were feeling.”

UWPD officials said the climate survey results represent a challenge that police departments across the country are currently facing. Sergeant Ryan Jesberger said that while 82 percent of total respondents said they felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable contacting UWPD if they have a problem, the department “knows it can do better” to serve diverse communities.

“We will continue to work with individuals and organizations on our campus to improve relationships and remove reporting barriers,” Jesberger said.

Blank said UW-Madison’s climate survey is not unusual. Other colleges across the country — like Minnesota, U.C. Berkeley and the University of Illinois system — have produced similar surveys and found similar results.

UW-Madison officials plan to repeat this climate survey every four to five years, according to Sims. Administrators also plan to host a series of discussions in which students and community members can talk about the results of the survey.

“We have to insist and ensure that every student on our campus is free from harm, has a strong sense of belonging and is treated with respect,” Blank said. “Anything less is simply unacceptable.”

Updates Nov. 2, 2017 at 11:27 a.m.: This story was updated to include UW-Madison Police Department's response.

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